Surrounded by posh guest houses, elite homes and upmarket shops, a by-lane at South Delhi’s Taimur Nagar goes to Indira Camp slums. Its two parts — Pahari Number 1 and 2 — house nearly 1,600 jhuggis and 6,000 inhabitants and derive their name from the two mountain-like garbage dumps on which they stand.
A water pipe, which serves almost half of Delhi, runs through the garbage dumps. The residents of the slum live in tiny rooms covered with tattered clothes as curtains or broken wooden/ tin doors. The area below the thick pipe also serves as home for some and a shop for many others. Some have even hung/tied thick bed-sheets or plastic tents around the pipe and live on a ‘swinging home’.
In order to reach the stinking slum, one has to wade through a bumpy, uneven passage with massive heaps of garbage on both sides. “It’s not only garbage,” a young boy said, “it is a marshland filled with human and animal excreta coming from two overflowing government toilets close to the water pipe. These are the only toilets for the inhabitants here”.
The slush pools also have parents in these slums worried for more reasons. “We have lost count of small children who have died by slipping into this filth,” said Dilshad Mohammad, a resident, adding, “when it rains, we pick our kids on our shoulder to take them to their schools, and bring them back the same way.”
A resident, Sushila, lost her aunt Shanti Devi when rain water flooded her jhuggi in 2008. “She was trying to pull her trunk to save medical documents of her hospitalised husband. She fell into the water that had reached her waistline. We found her body only when we saw her clothes floating a few days later,” Sushila recalled.
These slums have a 75:25 Muslim-Hindu population mix and came up around 35 years ago. “I came to this slum in 1986 after our jhuggis caught fire in Shantivan camp,” said Prahlad Deo, a migrant from Bihar who sells spices on a cartwheel now. Most men are either freelance labourers or sell mutton and fish to make a living. Girls and women work as domestic helps in nearby areas like Zakir Nagar and New Friends Colony.
The area pradhan Chandranath Jha insisted that the living conditions have only deteriorated in the last 25 years ago. “It is only worsening with each passing year.”
With the politicians only paying lip service, the dwellers are not too enthusiastic about the elections too. “In the run-up to elections, different political parties come here and promise us better living conditions. During last elections, for instance, a political leader erected an electric pole and broke the garbage dump’s rear boundary wall to turn it into a landscape and swimming pool – which never came up – but the water flowing in through the wall has turned the garbage into a marshland which has claimed several lives,” said a resident, Mohammad Nasir Khan, a fish seller.